It seems as if the future of web agencies will look quite different than today. The “traditional” web design agency model is in the beginning of a major disruption. There are a couple of big reasons for this:
1. The strategic value of design is getting recognised.
The fact that design is getting “a seat at the table” actually makes running a traditional web design agency harder. Irony defined.
The direct result of corporations understanding the strategic value of design is that design is moving in-house. This manifests itself in various ways, here are three ways:
- Design agencies are selling to corporations (a good example; Adaptive Path selling to CapitalOne)
- Principals are opting for in-house employment at large corporations
- Smaller design agencies sell to startups (for example, Teehan+Lax selling Facebook.)
2. Technology is commodifying web design.
“Designing” is getting easier because of easy access to powerful tools and processes. The question; “why would a business pay a 3x markup for a specialist?” suddenly gets very relevant.
As more businesses “get” design, it only makes sense for them to stop hiring web agencies “the traditional way”. Here are a couple of reasons why:
1. There are a lot of turnkey solutions with stellar UX.
Solutions that very efficiently solves plenty of common business problems. The eCommerce segment is a good example. Why would you hire an agency to set up an online storefront for you when it’s practically impossible for them to replicate the accumulated UX experience of Shopify. Not mentioning they would be a lot more expensive.
Or how about building a two-sided marketplace complete with revenue sharing? Hiring a web design agency to do that is not exactly affordable. But you know what’s affordable? Signing up for a Sharetribe account. You can have your very own niche AirBnb for cat lovers up & running in an hour.
2. Everybody’s a designer (or at least, everybody can be).
Things are very different today compared to when the first web agencies started. 15 years ago you had to have quite a lot of employees with different profiles in order to get even a rudimentary website up & running.
Today, we live in a world of WordPress, landing page services, a plethora of well designed stock designs, stock images, hosting of webpages via your Dropbox account etc.
What I want to say is that designing a reasonable UX that solves basic business problems is getting easier by the minute.
Web agencies should analyse how they acquire new customers
Small and midsize web agencies would do well in rethinking how they could make it a whole lot easier for their clients to hire them. Why? Because in a world where web design is commoditized you need to at the very least make it easy for clients to hire you.
One obvious way of doing this is letting your clients subscribe to monthly service packages. Basically service packages with a fixed monthly fee for a predefined set of services.
People like packages and more importantly, they’re used to it from the turnkey solutions they’re already “hiring” to solve other business problems they have. It also creates a sense of accountability. Your client knows exactly what they’re getting and what they’re paying for.
Packaged services can be used in various ways:
Imagine being the owner of a new dental practice. You’re just getting started and you need a webpage and help in marketing yourself online. Who would you choose as your service provider. An agency specialising in online dental marketing? Or an agency that does work for all kinds of industries?
Let’s elaborate some more on that. Let’s take two agencies that both specialises in online dental marketing. Which one would you pick; the one with a easy to understand monthly subscription package? The one that needs to give you a quote? (Here’s a great example of a niche agency with monthly subscriptions)
With design getting commoditized more web agencies should investigate if they can niche down their services to one or two segments.
Productized consulting services
If you don’t feel that niching down is an option there are other ways to explore. You could specialise in a specific service and offer what is called productized consulting services:
These three are great examples of productized consulting:
But you don’t necessarily need to offer subscription services, you could also do one-offs like these:
How are you preparing your web agency for the future?
There will be plenty of work. But if you want to have a high-margin web agency business you probably need to provide your services differently. Otherwise you’ll probably end up running a different agency from the one you set out to run.
The good thing is that if you start to rethink some of your client acquisition strategy today you have a leg up on the competition.